Leadership is influence … for the good of the people and the advancement of the mission.

It’s one thing to gain influence and a very different thing to sustain influence.

Which one of the two do you think is more difficult?

Did you ever get “straight A’s” in school? Which was more difficult, getting all A’s or doing it, again and again, semester after semester?

Exactly.

When you show up on your first day on the job, the people will extend influence to you. Starting the second day, they are already deciding if they will let you keep it.

As John Maxwell teaches, you start with a title, level 1; people follow you because they have to. It’s OK to start there, but you can’t stay there long and be effective.

  • You must move from positional leadership to permission leadership. This simply means that instead of following you because of your authority, people follow you because of relationship. Plainly put, they like you. This is good, but you can’t stop there.
  • You must move from permission to production leadership. This means that instead of people following you only because they like you, they follow you because of what you produce. Plainly put, they respect the fact that you make things happen.

Continued growth in your leadership is part of what it takes to gain influence and helps you establish a foundation that makes it possible to sustain influence. Meaning you have something worth sustaining.

Each level builds upon the last one. So, for example, if you lead at level 3, “production,” you can’t ignore level 2 relationships.

  • What then can translate that kind of solid leadership to sustained leadership?
  • How do you prevent the myriad of things that can reduce your level of influence over the long haul rather than increase it?

For a Christian leader, “influence” is about leading people forward according to God’s purpose and plan and in the best interest of each person’s spiritual maturity.

Your ability to sustain your influence for years, even decades, requires five important principles.

5 Principles for Sustained Influence

1) Your character and maturity keep pace with your skill development.

It’s always smart to keep learning, growing, and improving your skills as a leader, but your character is what determines if you can continue to use your gifts and abilities over a lifetime.

Maturity determines if you can manage your emotions, willingly accept delayed gratification, put others before yourself and see life through other people’s eyes. Character gives you the right reasons and discipline to do that.

An immature leader often seeks approval from those they lead, falls prey to performance, and will tend to put their needs and desires first.

A lack of character or integrity usually results in a lack of honesty resulting in poor decisions.

Patterns like these never allow for sustained influence.

One great remedy is to pursue the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

2) Your spiritual life operates in tandem with your organizational leadership.

Spirit and system were never meant to operate independently in the church. The Holy Spirit should always infuse your organizational systems. That’s what brings the miraculous into the mechanics of ministry.

From the New Testament days of the early church, organization was always part of the community of believers.

The early church didn’t always operate in an organized way, nor was it always unified because they too experienced human struggles. But the answer was always found in submission to the will and Word of God. The same is still true today.

A healthy church embraces both the power of the Holy Spirit and the organization of human systems in order to reach more people for Jesus. Spiritual leadership is required to marry both elements together.

Along these lines, I have found that a number of churches are over-organized and under evangelized. This is not an indictment; it’s an observation that we’d all be wise to consider.

How would you rate the value, passion, and outcomes of evangelism in your church?

3) Your calling and passion remain vibrant even in times of sustained pressure.

This one is not only personal it’s tough.

Even the best and most resilient of leaders can just get worn down and worn out. I pray that this is not you, but we are all susceptible.

Here’s what I find helpful for me to revitalize my calling and passion:

  • First, I reflect on my own story of salvation.
  • Second, I remember my calling to ministry.
  • Third, I realize I may define success differently than God does.

Let’s make that personal to you.

– Your decision, your step of faith, your moment of salvation carried with it life-changing power. Yet, that very power of God is still with you and your leadership.

– Remember your calling; refresh and rehearse that in your mind. Has God changed His mind? Are you still called? The answer is likely yes. Your partnership with God is worth all the pain and problems.

– No one wants to have fewer people attend/engage their church, but we may all be exactly where God wants us to be. Don’t misunderstand; I would never make excuses or rationalize a lack of leadership, but I still believe God is in control.

What if God is allowing something He didn’t cause to refine us and prepare us for greater things ahead. Again, “greater” may be defined differently than we do.

So what’s the plan?

Continue to trust God and keep moving forward in alignment with His will and purpose!

4) Your ability to develop and empower other leaders helps increase sustainability.

Sustained influence is not only about your inner life (character, maturity, calling, passion, spiritual life, etc.); it also involves the need for other leaders to come alongside you to help lift the load of leadership.

If we refer back to John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership, this is level 4 – people development.

The bottom line is that you can’t lead alone. The responsibilities are too great, the load is too heavy, and you, therefore, need to raise up other leaders to help realize the vision.

Leaders who attempt to carry the bulk of leadership load alone, make all the decisions and have their hands in everything often end up either leading small or burning out. That kind of leadership is not sustainable.

Can you name one, three, five, or more leaders you are investing in to empower as leaders?

5) Your love for people only increases the longer you lead.

The point here is not to infer that you ever actually stop loving people. Still, it’s surprisingly easy when you are exhausted, discouraged, facing big problems, or under sustained pressure to grow dull in your expression of love for those you lead. So how do you keep your love for others vibrant?

It often happens like this, one more person complains, one more person is offended, one more person leaves or one more person criticizes, etc., and you start to pull back at a heart level. It only takes “one more” when you’ve dealt with dozens and dozens.

Sometimes the remedy is as simple as rest. Seriously, get some time away from work to play and pray.

Other times you may need to talk with a wise counselor or trusted friend.

Another great approach is to get some time with those you are close to and make sure you are loving them well. If you asked them would they say they feel loved by you? Do you feel loved in return? That alone may be all you need.

Ultimately your leadership and ministry are based upon your ability to love and serve others, do whatever it takes to keep that love alive and well.

Guard your heart against cynicism, distrust, and isolation.

Much of the joy of ministry comes from your love for people. I pray that joy permeates your life and ministry.